We haven’t checked in what’s going on with DC’s public housing crisis in a while, but not because we haven’t been actively working on how to resolve the crisis in a way that centers the needs and rights of low-income DC residents. Below is some background, an update on where we are now, and some next steps:

Last winter, the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) released a report that concluded that the District’s public housing stock was in crisis, with 2500 of its units “nearly uninhabitable.”  Since that point we have been working with fellow advocates to figure out a path forward that appropriately balances the pressing needs of current tenants for habitable units with the preservation of deeply affordable, low barrier public housing. We testified at a January Board of Commissioners emergency meeting and have had regular meetings and conversations with DCHA leadership.

In the spring, we focused our efforts on advocating for public money to be devoted to public housing repairs. While the Mayor did not at that time devote any additional funds to public housing repairs, the DC Council appropriated $24.5 million from Events DC surplus and $1 million from a clawback of the Line Hotel tax incentive for repairs. (For background on that unusually dramatic battle, look here and here.)

In August, DCHA came out with a “20-Year Transformation Plan” and accepted comments through September 27. The agency held multiple public housing tenant meetings and met with advocates and tenant leaders throughout the comment period to answer questions and listen to our concerns. One important note about the agency’s plan: the $25.5 million appropriated by the DC Council allowed them to fully repair and renovate 503 units at four buildings (Judiciary House, Langston Additions, LeDroit Apartments and Kelly Miller Townhomes), taking them off the table for demolition or disposition.

Last Friday, we, along with Empower DC, Bread for the City, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs submitted comments to DCHA’s plan. The introduction to our comments summarizes our concerns and recommendations:

Ensuring that DC is able to continue to provide low barrier housing to people living with low income is a matter of racial justice, disability justice and making sure that our seniors can truly age in place. True justice also requires that in addition to being affordable, this housing be safe, healthy and dignified.

Our comments are rooted in our collective experience with public housing in the District, including the extensive experience many of us have working with and advocating for the residents living in the fourteen properties that DCHA seeks to rehabilitate or demolish through this repositioning. Our comments are similarly rooted in our knowledge of the barriers and discrimination that DCHA voucher holders face when trying to rent in the District, as well as the barriers former public housing residents face when trying to return to the mixed-finance properties currently in DCHA’s portfolio. Finally, we all encounter, organize with, or represent many individuals desperately in need of low barrier, deeply affordable housing. We root these comments in our belief that public housing plays a critical and irreplaceable role in DC’s housing ecosystem.

As such, we are concerned about the financial and practical feasibility of DCHA’s plan to relocate 2,600 families[1] through the voucher program while simultaneously redeveloping entire communities through largely unregulated private partnerships without a dedicated public funding source. 

Simply stated, DCHA’s Plan is a vision based on a best-case scenario and fails to detail how current and future public housing residents will be protected while also preserving DC’s largest stock of subsidized housing. We acknowledge that, due to years of divestment at the federal level and general neglect, these properties are in extreme disrepair, and that any plan must be, to some degree, about bricks and mortar. But the Plan must primarily and centrally be about the people who live in those buildings, now and in the future. The Plan is virtually silent on the rights of residents (to return and once they are in newly developed properties), the impacts of displacement, the very real challenges of renting with a voucher, or the years of harm endured by residents living in slum conditions. Additionally, the Plan seems to depend on access to highly competitive financing sources, results in a net loss of subsidized housing for large families and does not guarantee the redeveloped housing will be deeply affordable in perpetuity.

How to get involved:

  1. Sign the petition! You can sign as an individual, and those who wish to officially add an organization to the petition can indicate that in the comments section.
  2. October 1 at 6PM, Bread for the City, DC Jobs with Justice and Empower DC are sponsoring a community film screening and discussion on the film “Not in My Neighborhood.” The event will be held at Bread for the City NW, details here.
  3. October 8 at 6PM, Bread for the City, DC Jobs with Justice and Empower DC are holding a “public housing teach in.” This event will be held at Bread for the City NW, details here.
  4. October 30 at 11AM, Room 500, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Public Hearing on the “Public Housing Rehabilitation Oversight Task Force Act of 2019.” To sign up to testify, email jtrimboli@dccouncil.us by close of business October 29
  5. UPDATE: November 21 at 12PM, DCHA is holding a special “education symposium” for the Board of Commissioners about the agency’s public housing plan. It will be held at 1133 North Capitol Street NE. DCHA will present on its plan and the comments it has received. There is no longer an opportunity for the public to testify. We are not sure if the public will be allowed to attend.

We will be updating this blog with more information on how to get involved in this advocacy. In the meantime, if you would like more information or to join this work, please email info@legalclinic.org or call us at (202) 328-5500.

[1]  The 2,600 families displaced by the Plan are in addition to the already and soon-to-be displaced families from DCHA’s current redevelopment projects at Kenilworth, Barry Farm, Park Morton, Lincoln Heights, Arthur Capper/Carrolsburg and Sursum Corda thereby raising the number of families who are impacted by the Plan to upwards of 4,000.